Joe Gump, 1927-2014

It was while sitting in a Missouri federal courtroom watching his peace activist wife refusing to pay $424.47 in restitution to reduce an 11-year sentence for damaging a nuclear missile silo that Joe Gump decided that he, too, would take what he liked to refer to as a "retirement" in prison.

Mr. Gump ramped up his own antiwar efforts. In August 1987, 16 months after his wife was arrested at the silo in Holden, Mo., Mr. Gump and Jerry Ebner, broke into a K-9 missile silo near Butler, Mo. The two men poured blood in the shape of a cross on the concrete silo, snipped the cables to the alarm system, smashed the electrical outlets and took a sledgehammer to the geared tracks

"That day, while many others supported our action, what it dwindled down to was just him and me," said Ebner, who received a 40-month prison sentence, while Mr. Gump received 30 months. "Joe was married with children and much older than me, but was still determined to go through with it even though he had so much at stake."

Mr. Gump, 86, died of congestive heart failure on Saturday, March 8, at his home in Bloomingdale, Mich. An active member and treasurer of KNOW, the Kalamazoo Non-Violent Opponents of War, he was also a volunteer tax preparer for the elderly for the past 20 years.

He was living in Morton Grove at the time of his wife's arrest in the 1980s. He started a chapter of the Plowshares Action Group, a nationwide movement of Christian anti-nuclear war protesters who broke into nuclear silos and did damage to nuclear weaponry. The group took its name from the Bible verse "beating their swords into plowshares."

"Simply put, Joe was someone who not only talked the talk, he walked the walk," said Ebner, who lives in Omaha and remains involved in antiwar efforts. "He sacrificed a lot, risking everything, to stand up for what he believed in."

Jean Gump was released from prison in 1990, after 4½ years of incarceration. They had instructed their children to sell their Morton Grove home while they were both serving time.

In the 24 years since, Mr. Gump and his wife took part in antiwar protests at places including the Oak Ridge Nuclear Enrichment Facility in Tennessee. They traveled to Iraq in the early 1990s after the first Gulf War to bring medical supplies to the children affected by the war. The couple were profiled in Studs Terkel's 1988 book "Great Divide."

"They never stopped fighting for their causes, even if it meant traveling to far off places," said Mr. Gump's daughter Liz. "It had become a way of life for them."

Born and raised on Chicago's South Side, Mr. Gump graduated from Leo High School and attended the Illinois Institute of Technology for two years, before joining the Army in 1946. He was in Korea for several years before the Korean War broke out. He married his wife, Jean, in 1949. The two met on a blind date in high school in 1944.

After his military service, Mr. Gump attended the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign on the GI Bill, receiving a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering. He received a master's degree in business administration from the University of Chicago in the 1970s.

While raising their rapidly growing family, the couple moved to Morton Grove in 1954, and Mr. Gump worked for a Skokie company that manufactured instrument panels.

He and his wife shared a belief in social activism, though his wife was far more fervent. They marched for civil rights and in the 1960s and joined the Christian Family Movement, which urged Catholics to get involved in social justice. They delivered food into the slums and alienated some neighbors when they supported fair housing for minorities in their own town.

As Mr. Gump rose through the ranks at work, eventually becoming plant manager, he had less time for activism. But his wife remained active, joining nearly a million people in New York in 1992 for an anti-nuclear war rally. She was arrested numerous times. She blocked the entrance to Motorola in Schaumburg and handed out leaflets and prayed in front Morton Thiokol in Chicago. In 1985 she was arrested with her sisters at Strategic Air Command base in Nebraska during a peace retreat.

Her arrest and imprisonment in 1986 spurred her husband to greater action. In December of that year, Mr. Gump was arrested for the first time when he and about 100 other people in front of Water Tower Place were singing Christmas carols with lyrics changed to reflect their opposition to American involvement in Central America.

"You begin to assign a different scale of values to things than you had before," Mr. Gump told the Chicago Reader in 1987. "My job, for one; earning an income has absolutely no interest to me anymore. I think I've become much more involved in resistance to those things which need to be resisted."

Four months after that profile ran, Mr. Gump and Ebner, calling themselves "Transfiguration Plowshares," because August marked the feast of the Transfiguration, when Jesus' divinity was revealed to his disciples, cut the chain-link fence at the K-9 silo and made their statement.

"In the end, it was Joe's sheer conviction that saw us through that day," Ebner said.

Mr. Gump, who defended himself at trial, asked U.S. Judge Howard Sachs for the longest sentence possible.

"I have little doubt," Sachs said during sentencing, according to a 1987 story in the Chicago Tribune, "that Mr. Gump is here because he wants to share the punishment imposed on his wife."

Mr. Gump also is survived by his wife; three sons, William, Andrew and Joseph Gump; six other daughters, Katherine Lage, Christine Perlin Gump, Holly Gump, Marthe Murray, Margaret Gump and Nancy Charlesworth; a brother, Raymond; a sister, Kathleen Johnson; 15 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

A memorial Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. May 24 in St. Martha Catholic Church, 8523 Georgiana Ave., Morton Grove.

Copyright © 2018, CT Now